In my job as a consultant, I have spent a lot of time over the years in other people’s classrooms. This can be an amazing experience with lots of new ideas flowing or it can be a very awkward experience because the person doesn’t like being observed. Obviously I prefer it to be a great experience of collaborating with the teacher. I also think that when you are the teacher receiving the observation, you may not always view it positively even if there are no issues or it’s just a fellow teacher coming into the room. Having anyone come in and observe your classroom can be a stressful experience. This is true whether the observer is:
- A consultant
- An instructional coach
- An administrator
- A fellow teacher
- And sometimes even just a related service provider
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However, there are benefits of having all these professionals come into the classroom if you can view it positively.
Why Would I Want Someone Observing in my Classroom?
A Fresh Perspective
Even just having another teacher come to observe in the classroom can be remarkably helpful because he or she sees your classroom from a different perspective. It’s hard to see your classroom from a birds-eye view when you are in the middle of it. You are busy teaching, making it difficult to look at what is going on around you in the room. And it’s also hard to look at it objectively because you are in the middle of it and you are invested in it. Having someone come in with an outsider’s perspective can be helpful for ideas that you may not have noticed or for problems you didn’t know were happening. For instance, it’s difficult to know how instruction is going in other centers with paraprofessionals when you are involved in small group. Another set of eyes can help provide you with feedback as well as give immediate feedback and ideas to the other professionals in the classroom.
Complementary Skill Sets
In addition to a fresh set of eyes, an observer often brings a complementary skill set to your staff’s skills. For instance, if you have never used a Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) system below, a speech pathologist or coach may have experience with it and feel that it would work well for one of your students. That person can also help to provide support with implementing new strategies within the room. They also bring new ideas that perhaps you had never thought of–experience with different curricula or other strategies that might help the students be more successful or help you with planning lessons. Or they might have ideas about how to address a behavioral issue that has been difficult for the staff to address.
Making the Most of the Observation
In most instances whne someone is observing your classroom, they are there to give you feedback and support. Sometimes you have asked for it. Sometimes you haven’t. Here are some tips to make the feedback discusssion productive. The observer can provide some good ideas as an outsider and someone with different experience, but if you can’t listen to it or use it, the impact in the classroom will be minimal.
Try to avoid becoming defensive
This is probably the hardest to do. Hopefully whoever is observing has some knowledge about how to give feedback effectively. Regardless, though, you will benefit the most if you try to avoid becoming defensive. It’s absolutely OK (I think) to let the observer know that you are nervous or apprehensive about getting their feedback. However, be sure to listen to what the person has to say before starting to try to explain why you so it. You may have a very good reason for the way you are doing something that the observer is suggesting you change; however, it pays to hear her out and then decide if it might be helpful to try something new or stick with what you are doing. Try to put aside your feelings that they are telling you that you are doing it wrong; they probably are not but it does feel that way. Then focus on what they are saying. If you feel that things are ok the way they are, share that when they are finished.
Tell the Observer What You Think is Working
Again hopefully the person giving suggestions will ask for and seek your feedback about your thoughts of how the classroom or situation is working. If he or she doesn’t, ask if you can share that with them. Tell them that you feel that there are certainly things that could be changed but that some things are working for you and the class and you would like to discuss those as well. Explain that you are willing to make changes but want to keep certain elements that you think are helpful, useful, important to the class. Then you can have a discussion of how to incorporate what is working with new ideas.
Discuss How Best to Make Changes (if needed)
Sometimes consultants (and administrators) feel they have one shot to give you all the feedback they need to give. Unfortunately this is completely overwhelming for the teacher receiving it and quickly becomes overwhelming in trying to implement it. If the observer is making suggestions that will be new to implement in your classroom, you can talk about the best way to go about implementing them. Knowing a list of things to try is not nearly as helpful as some approach of how to make the changes. You don’t want to upset everything going well in the class and you don’t want to overwhelm yourself, the staff, or the students. Perhaps the answer is to try one thing at a time…talk about priorities regarding which it makes sense to start with. Perhaps there is a group of things to try that go together (e.g., perhaps visual rules and a visual cueing belt are best implemented together). Perhaps it makes sense to start a new strategy with one student at a time. I tell teachers when they start using visual schedules that they should start with one student–the most independent–and get that student doing well and then move to the next most independent. This keeps it from being overwhelming and makes it more successful. Have this conversation with the observer about how to best go about implementing what they are talking about and ask them to help you make a plan, if they don’t offer. A good consultant or administrator should observe that they need to help with this, but sometimes they will miss it. It will help you in the future to speak up and ask for help in the implementation component. Suggestions are not helpful to anyone if they cannot be implemented.
Make an Action Plan From the Observation
You can do this on your own or ask the observer to do it with you as a collaboration. An action plan outlines the steps of things you are going to try. Typically it contains deadlines and you discuss how long things will be implemented before deciding if it works or not. This allows you to put in place the strategies from the item above in a reasonable order with reasonable timelines. It also allows the coach or observer to outline areas where he or she can help you, model strategies, train your staff (and/or you) in new strategies, etc. In addition, it allows for time to make materials that are needed (e.g., visual schedules) so that they can implemented with thought and organization.
Remember that it may seem like weakness to ask for assistance, or to want to share what you think is working or ask for assistance in making an action plan, but doing so is actually a strength. It conveys to the person that you are committed to hearing the suggestions, implementing them in the classroom and developing a plan to do so in a meaningful way. Those are the teachers I LOVE to work with because they are always willing to learn and try things.
I’ll be back with this series next week talking about it from the coaches’/observer’s side and what we need to do to make it work for the teacher when we give feedback. In the meantime, if you missed the Facebook Live session, you can watch the discussion below and I hope you will join me next week for another great discussion.
Until next time,